Major Jewish Emigration Destinations

By Marisa González

Major Jewish Emigration Destinations

        Jews were permitted to emigrate from Germany from the spring of 1933, when Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the Reich, until October 1941.[1] At first, Jews left of their own accord, but in 1938 forced emigration, or deportation, became the basis for the next wave of formal Nazi policy. The Nazi Party was ultimately unsuccessful in their plans for massive deportation of the Jews from Europe; during the first five years of occupation, only 26% of Germany Jewry immigrated to different countries, and by the end of Nazi rule roughly 50% had escaped persecution in Germany.[2] However, many Jews who fled to other European countries were later apprehended as the Party gained control of more territories throughout the continent.

        From 1933-1941, Jews in Europe emigrated to a wide variety of locations across the world, ranging from countries in Western Europe to North and South America, and East Asia. The major destinations for emigration before and at the outset of World War II were Palestine (a region governed by Great Britain), Great Britain, the United States and Shanghai, China.

        Palestine was thought to be a safe haven for Jews in which they could reestablish themselves and all of Jewish society economically, religiously, and culturally; “the return to a Jewish homeland.”[3] In 1933 it “became the single most important country of refuge for Jews from Germany.”[4] Unlike other emigration destinations, it was believed that Jews were able to live their lives in Palestine without the threat of expected assimilation and antisemitism. Ironically, it was also at one point a planned deportation site within the Nazi Party. Despite the appeal and positive reputation, the British government had a limit on the number of immigrants they would allow into Mandate Palestine. Many applicants were rejected due to these strict quotas, but by 1940 60,000 Jews were still able to reach the area legally.[5] Even after Great Britain closed the Mandate’s door to refugees after 1939, thousands of Jews developed elaborate plans for successful illegal immigration into Palestine.[6] 

        Great Britain had some of the strictest immigration policies among the major neighboring European countries, making this a less than ideal emigration option for the first few years after the Nazis came to power in Germany. In late 1938, when the Nazis began to force Jews out of Germany, Great Britain felt compelled to relax its immigration policy, and “as a result some sixty to eighty thousand refugees from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and a few from Poland entered Britain during the last twelve months before the outbreak of the war.”[7] Additionally, the British government allowed tens of thousands of unaccompanied Jewish children into the country, sent by their parents in the hopes they would survive and be reunited later on. A majority of Great Britain’s appeal during these early war years can be attributed to simply being a place of temporary refuge from the Nazis for anyone that could get out of Germany.

        The United States was not a major emigration destination at the outset of Nazi rule; like Great Britain, it had strict immigration quotas that were not filled, and anti-immigrant and antisemitic views were widespread throughout the population and government. Furthermore, the U.S. was more foreign to European Jews than other countries surrounding Germany, making it less appealing in comparison. The journey to the U.S. was longer and more expensive, and required leaving behind family members and history some did not want to abandon. Later on, the U.S. became a somewhat popular destination when Jews realized they would not be able to escape persecution in Europe, and needed to seek refuge wherever they could. For some, this was the second or third country of emigration, in an effort to move further away from the Nazi Party.[8] Eventually, “In most cases, in the summer of 1940, immigration to the U.S. became a hopeless quest”[9]

        Finally, Shanghai, China became one of many popular short-term emigration options for Jews desperately trying to flee the Reich from 1938-1941; Jews obtained entrance to Shanghai with Latin American countries and the United States in mind as their final destination. Emigration to Shanghai was a last resort for many attempting to escape persecution, and by 1941 almost 20,000 Jews had reached this area.

        Factors that determined the choice of emigration destination ranged from the attitudes within the general population and government to a relaxed immigration policy and good timing. “While the emigration prior to 1938 was considered post factum by the majority to be rescue, the subsequent emigration constituted a deliberate attempt to effect rescue from mortal danger.”[10] Emigration at the beginning of World War II and into 1941 was a realization of the terrible situation for Jews in Europe and a final effort to escape persecution, and ultimately, what is known today, death.


[1] Abraham Margaliot, “The Problem of the Rescue of German Jewry During the Years 1933-1939; The Reasons for Their Delay in Their Emigration from the Third Reich” (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), 247.

[2] Ibid., 248.

[3] Walter Laqueur, Generation Exodus: The Fate of Young Jewish Refugees from Nazi Germany (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2001), 94.

[4] Ibid., 96.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Margaliot, 265.

[7] Laqueur, 190.

[8] Ibid., 132.

[9] Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Vol. 2, The Years of Extermination, 1939-1945 (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 84.

[10] Margaliot, 264-265.

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